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Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Dance of Love

Here is my sermon from St Stephen Walbrook today:

Explaining the idea of the Trinity - three persons, one God - has always been a challenge to priests and preachers. The shamrock is one favourite illustration - three leaves, one stem - as is water - two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen forming one entity which can be a liquid, a solid and a gas.

My favourite image, though, is not of the form of the Trinity but of its dynamism and dynamic. That image is of a dance as the Greek word for the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit - perichoresis - means ‘to dance around one another in relationship’ ('peri meaning around, and choreio to dance' - Touching the Sacred, Chris Thorpe and Jake Lever, Canterbury Press). As those who have danced with others regularly will know, dance partners interact “within a rhythm which remains the same but in a continuous variety of movements.” At its best, you have people totally in tune with one another for the period of that dance.

This is what the united relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is thought to be in the Christian faith and it means that at the very heart of God is a dynamic relationship in which a constant exchange of love is underway. It has been called it the dance of love.

At several points in John’s Gospel we hear Jesus speaking about his relationship with God the Father and with God the Holy Spirit. When he speaks in this way it is as though Jesus is pulling back the veil which prevents us from seeing God and giving us, thereby, a glimpse of God as Trinity. He says in John 16: 5-15 that God the Spirit takes what belongs to God the Son and declares it to us. All that belongs to God the Son, he says, also belongs to God the Father. So, all that Jesus has belongs equally to the Spirit and the Father. Therefore, we have a picture of God the Father giving to God the Son who gives to God the Holy Spirit who gives to us. What is being pictured is an exchange of love.

Stephen Verney, a former Bishop of Repton, has explored this idea in several of his books (The Dance of Love, Stephen Verney, Fount): “The Son can do nothing of himself”, he says, “but only what he sees the Father doing” (5. 19). That is one side of the equation (of this so-called equality) – the emptiness of the Son. He looks, and what he sees his Father doing, that he does; he listens, and what he hears his Father saying, that he says. The other side of the equation – of the choreography – is the generosity of the Father. “The Father loves the Son, and reveals to him everything which he is doing” (5. 20), and furthermore, he gives him authority to do “out of himself” all that the Father does, and can never cease to do because it flows “out of himself”. In that dance of love between them, says Jesus, “I and the Father are one.” The Son cries, “Abba! Father!” and the Father cries “my beloved Son”, and the love which leaps between them is Holy Spirit – the Spirit of God, God himself, for God is Spirit and God is Love.”

This is a relationship of love at the heart of the Godhead where love is constantly being shared and exchanged between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is out of this relationship of love that Jesus comes into our world to open up a way for us to participate in the relationship of love that is constantly being shared between Father, Son and Spirit.

That is the incredible truth that Jesus’ words reveal to us. The Spirit takes what belongs to Father, Son and Spirit and gives it to us. We are invited in to the relationship of love which exists in the Godhead. Verney says that the eternal dance of the Trinity in heaven is reflected in the creation and we are invited to join in. Our relationship with God means that we are always being invited to be drawn further into this constant, eternal exchange or dance of love. Jesus describes this when he says that he is in the Father and the Father in him. He then extends that same relationship to others too - I am in you and you are in me. To really know love, Christianity suggests, we must be drawn into the dance of love which Father, Son and Holy Spirit share and which is at the very heart of God.

We are familiar with the idea that God’s love for us is shown in Jesus’ sacrifice of himself for us by becoming human and then dying for us on the cross. We are less familiar with the idea that we can be part of the constant exchange of love in God of which we have been speaking and which Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice enables us to experience. If we live in God, we live in love and love lives in us. We become included in the constant exchange of love which exists in the Godhead and are, therefore, constantly loved no matter what else is going on in our lives. The dance of love is the glory in God’s heart, the pattern by which we are loved and the pattern by which we are called to live.


Madeleine Peyroux - Dance Me To The End Of Love.

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